Title: Sharpe’s Rifles
Author: Bernard Cornwell
Published by: HarperCollins
Publication date: 1st Jan 1988
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Private Collection
Lieutenant Richard Sharpe and a detachment of riflemen join the assault of a strong French force holding the Holy City of Santiago de Compostela.
Lieutenant Richard Sharpe and a detachment of Riflemen are cut off from the rest of the army and surrounded. Their only hope of escape is to accept the help of the Spanish, but this assistance comes at a price: to join the assault on the holy city of Santiago de Compostela, held by a strong French force. There is little Sharpe would enjoy more.
Soldier, hero, rogue – Sharpe is the man you always want on your side. Born in poverty, he joined the army to escape jail and climbed the ranks by sheer brutal courage. He knows no other family than the regiment of the 95th Rifles whose green jacket he proudly wears.
After picking up a heap of Historical Fiction books from my Father-in-law, I thought I’d ease myself back into the genre by continuing to follow Sharpes adventures. Happy to say, they’re just as good as I remember!
Sharpe’s Rifles is the 6th book in the Sharpe series, chronologically, by Bernard Cornwell. Sharpe is Quartermaster to a detachment of Rifles, hates his ‘officers’ position in the Army for the distance it places him between the soldiers and the ‘real’ officers. Having been raised up as an officer from the ranks fo traditional soldiery he is resentful of his reward as it keeps him from the front-line fighting; the passing of Captain Murray of the 95th Rifles, after being separated from the main army, see’s Sharpe getting the command that he rightfully deserves.
The winning over of the 95th Rifles company isn’t an easy journey for Sharpe. Along the way there are mutinies, fights, and dramatic struggles that keep both Sharpe and the reader entertained. For Sharpe, there is no easy route in life and if a problem cannot be solved by direct confrontation, he struggles! It makes for a highly entertaining read. Sharpe’s Rifles introduces a whole new set of characters too and finally, Sharpe meets his new friend, Harper.
The relationship between Sharpe and Harper is what makes this book the fantastic read it is. How their relationship starts to the ending point is a journey that is wonderfully written as the combat, the fighting and the rest of the plot. Right from their first meeting, you know that this is going to be something a bit special. Their hatred for one another and how that turns into a lasting friendship is superbly written, their dynamic is unconventional and a treat to read.
It astounds me then that Bernard Cornwell cannot write women! Sharpe’s Rifles introduces the character Louisa Parker; who Sharpe falls in love with. No surprise there, Sharpe has fallen in love in every book thus far! The interactions between them are awkward, the conversation stilted. Louisa is a Methodist from England on a trip around Spain, where Sharpe’s Rifles is set, to convert the Catholics with her religious family, but she is more hell-bent on adventure than religious conversion. She offers a distraction for Sharpe in the tried and tested ways of the women from previous Sharpe novels. I just find it amazing that Cornwell can write such a clever relationship between Sharpe and Harper and yet, when a woman becomes involved the relationship is still and doesn’t feel quite real. The woman in the Sharpe novels serve a limited and linear purpose, but to be quite honest, the romantic relationships aren’t a reason to read the Sharpe novels.
To make up from the shortfall of the romantic relationships, there is Blas Vivar, a Spanish Major whom Sharpe befriends and works alongside; this character brings another religious element to the novels in the form of Catholicism and with it the religious superstitions that drive the books plot; to hang a relic of St James; a gonfalon from the city of Santiago de Compostela the saints Holy city. The city, however, is under French Occupation. Thus the plot centres around how to beat the French and fly the gonfalon where it belongs once again.
Having been written in 1988, this is the earliest of the novels in publication order I’ve read; so there’s only scant hints to the background that has come before it – seeing as they hadn’t been written yet, this is completely understandable, but there is enough of a nod to the time spent in India to make Sharpe’s Rifles feel like it is part of a larger body of work.
While some of the Sharpe novels I have already read come across as serious business in the art of the battles they represent; Sharpe’s Rifles holds more of an element of fun. The religious superstition adds new conversations to Sharpes characters – who believes absolutely none of it – and the conflicting sides of Catholicism and Methodist intermingle around him. Seeing the central character getting swept up in the moments of religion are entertaining and show just how easily led Sharpe can be.
There’s also a side to Sharpe within Sharpe’s Rifles that hasn’t really been seen before. He isn’t the brash confident character in front of his new regiment; this is the sort of officer that Sharpe has always aspired to be but in the face of it and the shadow of Harper – whom the men adore and flock to – he pales. Seeing him develop throughout the novel is heart-warming; because despite his roguish nature, the brash attitude and the foul-languge, there is a man that you absolutely root for. You want to see this gutter-trash do well and ‘stick it to the real officers.’
The historical note in Sharpe’s Rifles is a good subsection of the book which pretty much states; I made most of this book up! You can tell that this book in the series is more fictional than historical, but Cornwell still brings his expertise to the battles that take place.
Another great addition to the Sharpe series. Sharpe is still a great, entertaining character to read about and his supporting cast is sublime. Don’t read this if you’re looking for strong female characters because they’re non-existent, even if Louisa has a bit more backbone than other female characters. Well described battles that have more of a fun factor than some previous offerings.